Information


Ap has a minion!

Orchard the Smiley Apple




Ap
Legacy Name: Ap


The Harvest Jollin
Owner: Pureflower

Age: 5 years, 6 months

Born: November 27th, 2018

Adopted: 5 years, 6 months ago

Adopted: November 27th, 2018


Pet Spotlight Winner
May 13th

Statistics


  • Level: 27
     
  • Strength: 34
     
  • Defense: 10
     
  • Speed: 10
     
  • Health: 11
     
  • HP: 11/11
     
  • Intelligence: 46
     
  • Books Read: 28
  • Food Eaten: 0
  • Job: Store Manager


Part One:

Apolla looked out on the land that was hers, a small smile turning up the corners of her lips.

She'd given up a successful career to pursue her dream. She'd wept over the purchase cost and fallen to her knees when faced with the cruelty of Mother Nature. A freak ice storm reduced her first crop of gorgeous apples to mushy brown blobs. She'd come so close to quitting then, caving in to the pressures of nagging Auntie Alice who swore she'd end up penniless, just like her father.

It was the push she needed to thumb her nose at Auntie and give herself a second chance.

He'd come so close to fulfilling the dream himself before cancer robbed him of his good looks, his cheerful outlook on life and his vitality. As a very young child, she'd lie in his lap as night fell, listening to his low, rumbling voice. He was going to have at least seventy...no, eighty trees. Good, sturdy apple trees that would stand the test of time. None of these sickly hybrid grafts with names out of some French fashion catalogue. Heirloom trees that would give abundant crops and allow him to start up his own cider press.

Her orchard was three times the size of the one he'd built in his mind and if this year was as smashing as the last, she'd be snatching up the neighboring plot in no time.

She drank the last of her coffee and hopped down off the wooden railing surrounding the front porch. Her workers would be arriving within the hour and she hadn't even showered yet. She carried her mug to the kitchen, stumbling over her resident throw pillow.

"Lester! What am I going to do with you? Why don't you go catch a mouse or something?"

Les honored her with a haughty yawn, the tip of his bushy tail twitching back and forth as he sauntered into the kitchen. Finding nothing but dust in his food dish, he verbalized his disappointment in humanity but his human was already halfway up the stairs. He took a shortcut across the glass coffee table to launch himself onto the windowsill in the living room. Magazines and the latest apple sales report went flying in all directions. Les curled up with a self-satisfied rumble. His human would yowl over the mess and scramble to pick everything up before the dog got into it. It would amuse Les greatly.

As if he sensed someone was thinking about him, Hershey started to bark from inside his crate. The chocolate Labrador was a delightful snuggling companion but his oversized feet were always landing him in trouble and he just couldn't seem to get it through his head that trees in the orchard were not put there for his personal use. He barked until the whine of the shower head came to an end.

Apolla stuck her fingers in between the bars. "Hey, bud. I'll let you out in just a minute, okay?"

To a dog, minutes and seconds are pretty much the same thing. He gave her all of one second and really let her know how lonely it was in that horrible, dark box with the little barred windows. The second she released him, he tore down the stairs and headed straight for the chair that was and always would be Lester's.

He might be able to give the cat a real problem as a full-sized dog but Hershey was only ten weeks old. He rebounded off the front of the chair as Lester teasingly switched his tail back and forth, well out of the pup's reach. Apolla scrambled to clean up Lester's mess, well aware of how quickly Hershey could turn a magazine into a pile of confetti.

Apolla whisked Lester into her arms despite his growl of protest, depositing him on the screened porch. Hershey charged through the second door as soon as it was opened, rushing forward with his tail waving like a banner, his nose to the wind. No squirrels would come within a hundred feet of the house on his watch.

"Sorry, Les. I can't have you two making mischief today. If the Pick-A-Thon goes well, we might even make the local paper!"

Les yawned and curled up on the blue striped lawn chair. It wasn't an ideal napping spot but it would have to do.

Apolla was all smiles as families started to arrive. Her handful of helpers were everywhere, pitching jars of fresh applesauce, apple-themed baked goods and her custom line of apple-scented hand soaps and facial scrubs. Harvey proved himself a worthy new hire when his mad mechanical skills saved her cider press from catastrophe. He went on to whip out half a dozen cups of steaming cider with a little sleight of hand to make it look like the juice was leaping from the pitcher to the glasses. Hershey managed to get himself a taste of sweetness when one of the maneuvers failed, leaving a nice golden puddle at his paws. Apolla tried to look stern but she just couldn't pull it off. Harvey looked a little like her dog with his well-groomed brown hair and oversized hands.

Melody, Trudy and Ray couldn't wait to see the newspaper man's sample pictures. They all gathered around the floodlight hanging over the barn doors an hour after the last guests had departed. The light was failing but they were all way too pumped over the success of the day to be feeling the effects of a hard day's work. At least for now. Harvey finished fiddling with the heater in the barn, stepping out in time to see a photo of himself catching a stream of cider at just the right moment. He returned Ray's high-five and Melo's infectious grin.

"This place is going to make the tourist books at this rate. You think we could get a few of those for the web page?"

The newspaper man smiled and touched the bill of his cap. "Sure thing, Ma'am. May I just say that's some of the finest cider I've tasted since I was a boy? I look forward to bringing my own kids out one of these weekends."

Apolla smiled. "Thanks. We'll be happy to have you."

There was still the last of the cleanup to be done and the buildings to secure. Harvey would lock up when he'd done his final inspection for the day. He was a fanatic about the machines. He'd never get a job this laid-back in the city. He could both put his engineering degree to use and sneak in a nap at noon...two of his favorite things to do.

Hershey yawned, uncurling his long pink tongue. Apolla smiled and bent down to scratch his ears, holding the porch door open for Les. "Come on, boys. Let's call it a night."

Part Two:

It was hard, convincing herself to uncurl out of her favorite chair and go to bed. The fireplace was crackling merrily, TV wasn't completely terrible for once and Les had set aside his dignity temporarily to allow himself to be petted. He purred, staring smugly at the exhausted pup asleep on the rug. Hershey hadn't even made it through comedy hour, to say nothing of the detective movie that would earn two paws up, if cats could be convinced to waste their precious time rating human pictures.

The rain started just before midnight but it wasn't the gentle patter of raindrops on the roof that woke the three sleepers.

The doorbell sounded unnaturally loud in the still house. Hershey leapt up and whapped his nose against the bars of his crate, barking like mad. Les streaked across the room, his fur puffed out, his eyes wide. Apolla stumbled out of bed with a groan, slipping her feet into spa shoes and stumbling downstairs.

The policeman at the door touched his cap and nodded.

"Terribly sorry to disturb you, ma'am. I know it's late but we've got a killer on the loose and we need your permission to search your buildings."

Apolla stood slack-mouthed, trying to make sense of the words. "Um...okay. Let me get my keys."

"I'll have to ask you to wait inside, ma'am. This man is extremely dangerous."

She made a pot of cocoa on the stove, anything to keep her hands busy while she waited to hear the outcome. She was expecting the doorbell but the sound still made her jump. Hershey, who had just settled down, protested this further sleep interruption. Loudly.

Les stalked into the kitchen and gave the cop the infinity stare.

"All clear, ma'am. We'll have a couple cars sitting on the turn in the road until he's picked up."

Apolla thanked him and locked the front door. She finished her cocoa and rinsed the mug, almost dropping it on the floor when a branch scratched the kitchen window. Laughing at herself, she scooped up Les and went back to bed.

She couldn't sleep. The mice were particularly noisy, scuttling along the floorboards and driving Les wild. He stalked the room, hissing and batting the the floorboards, striking fear into the hearts of the trio of rodents that were always stealing from his dish whenever his human was careless enough to lock him outside during the day.

"Settle down, Les."

Hershey whined at her tone, sensing her nerves. Her mind wandered to Carl for no particular reason. Her ex would've never tolerated a dog in the house. He'd complained about Les all the time but hadn't dared suggest she get rid of that adorable fuzzball that had been an engagement present. Carl was the kind of man to buy something now and regret it later. He was that way about a lot of things. Including commitment.

He was happily married to his job now and he could have it.

Why did she always dwell on the past when things were going well in the present? She was no psychoanalyst who got her kicks from such things. Giving up entirely on sleep, she powered up her laptop and checked her feed for any unwatched cute cat videos. She was rewarded with a chubby tabby trying to get his paws on a few Goldfish crackers...from the underside of a glass table.

She nearly knocked her computer on the floor at the sound of gunshots.

Part Three:

The closest thing she had to a weapon was a baseball bat...one Hershey had used as a chew toy at some point. She'd never learned to use a gun and she was liable to stab herself with a knife. Something about sharp, pointy objects and bad ankles just don't mix. She envisioned taking a swing at some enormous body-building serial killer and accidentally whopping herself on the head. Maybe she should just carry her cell phone.

Or not go out in the pouring rain on a creepy moonless night. That would be the logical option, the one anybody who'd seen a single horror film would select.

She couldn't sit around and wait for this creep to break and enter, though. This was her land that she'd given up everything to own. A lot of her trees were still young and delicate. Some blundering idiot stumbling through them in the dark, littering the ground with immature fruits and delicate twigs would be a fate worse than death for her business.

Rain slapped her face in sheets. Her flashlight beam made a small circle that really didn't do much against the building fog. She stumbled her way toward the storage shed, cursing under her breath.

She'd finally caught sight of the door when the shots rang out again. She threw herself down in the mud.

It's funny, the little details you notice when you're sure you've reached the end. She turned her head ever so slightly to spit a few granules of dirt out of her mouth. Brown droplets dripped off a few strands of hair that had come loose from their tie. Someone had forgotten to shut off the lights in the old barn. No...not forgotten. The door opened. The shadow of a man stretched impossibly large in the golden square of light. She shuddered as the figure moved toward her, as if the shadow itself had the power to do harm.

"Apolla?"

She picked herself up slowly, her face burning. "Harvey? Did you hear shots?"

"Oh...um...that was actually me. They weren't shots. See...I thought I could improve the efficiency of the tumbler. I mean, your cider's fantastic but the complaint I heard the most today was how long it takes the next batch to finish mixing so I thought with a few adjustments...which would have worked if I hadn't missed a bolt. That's what you were hearing. It's all fixed now. I mean, not that it was technically broken but...sorry if I woke you up. Melody told me you go to bed pretty early."

"That's fantastic! I mean, it will be...once you get it working. There's a reason I trust you with the mechanical stuff. I couldn't get a slinky to work when I was a kid."

He laughed, his smile falling away when he noticed the bat. "Um...it's a little late in the season for baseball."

"Didn't the police talk to you?"

"Huh? No...I've been in the barn pretty much since the newspaper guy left. Well...I guess I did run down to Burger Barn. Come to think of it, I saw a couple police cars on my way back. Didn't think anything of it at the time. What did I miss?"

She told him about the man on the loose.

"Wow. I was planning to head home pretty soon but...maybe it would be better if I stayed. I can sleep on the couch. I've had worse beds."

Apolla thought about her empty house and the sound of branches scratching on the window like the filth-encrusted nails of some psycho.

"No couches here. I've got a guest room."

Part Four:

"So how does a brilliant engineer end up working for an apple farmer in the middle of nowhere?"

Harvey took a careful sip of cider, absentmindedly scratching Hershey behind the ears. The dog had taken an instant like to their visitor. Even Les had set aside his dignity briefly to accept a morsel of butter cookie from the stranger.

"You know how most people have that one stupid thing they did when they were younger? The thing they'd take back, if they could?"

Carl came readily to mind. "Yes. I do."

"Well for me, that one thing was a really stupid thing. I was six months away from finishing an engineering program that could've gotten me on the crew that designs spacecrafts. Then one night, for no particular reason, I got stupid drunk, stumbled into the wrong apartment and punched the son of the university president in the face. See...I thought I was in my apartment and that he was a burglar. It's not like I was crazy rich but...I had a stereo and a gaming laptop. Not top-of-the-line but nice stuff. He lost his little sister to a drunk driver so he had no sympathy for me. I was sent away in disgrace and no other program would touch me. It's like there's a stink hanging on me...other academics can smell it a mile off. One bad decision can screw up your entire life. For someone like me, a job like this? It's the next best thing to winning the lottery."

"Wow...sorry."

"No reason for you to be sorry. Unless you were tending bar that night, I guess. Even so, it's not like anybody was holding the glass to my lips."

"Yeah, but everybody makes mistakes. Mine was a two hundred seven pound leech."

"Do you ever miss the city?"

"Nope."

He finished off his cup. "Me neither. I guess you and I are just the sort that don't need a crowd. I thought I'd get bored out here...but honestly, I like the quiet. For the first time in my life, I have time to think."

She wasn't sure she liked that "you and I" bit. This wasn't a man that would sit on the porch and trace the petals of apple blossoms with his eyes...but he wasn't nearly as hopeless as Carl. At least he could recognize the value of good land, even if he didn't put that appreciation into the most eloquent terms.

There you go again, Apolla. Trying to make wedding plans when you barely even know the guy. Will you ever learn to just be cool and stop trying to live five years into the future?

She was so glad he couldn't read her mind. Hershey must've sensed her discomfort. He whined and presented his head for petting.

They all jumped at the sound of crackling wood and a piercing scream. Trees being ripped apart by hurricane-force winds couldn't have voiced such agony. Apolla and Harvey both leapt to their feet, all thoughts of past regrets and baseball bats forgotten. They simply had to be outside, to see what could make such an unearthly sound. The instinct to confront the unknown, regardless of danger, was as real for them as it had been for the first caveman to see strange lights in the sky.

Apolla knew which tree to seek. Somehow, she had always known this tree was special.

It was the only apple tree that had come with the property. Badly neglected and in need of serious pruning, the mighty tree had been striped with neon orange paint, marked to be chopped out and burned. Apolla had worked tirelessly all through her first growing season, untangling the gnarled mess of branches and even getting the tired old tree to produce a few dozen apples. She liked to swear they were sweeter than her main crop though she never tried to sell the apples from her special tree.

The killer was lying at an odd angle, completely still. Six officers stood over him, muttering among themselves. It was hard to make out details in the gray light of early morning but the fact that this man would never again terrorize average citizens in the night was obvious.

Apolla could overhear the conversation of the deputy with one of his men as she approached. They were sharing a good laugh.

"Old Twitch thought he was the clever one, always using burner phones, always giving us the slip at those crappy hotels. To think...he finally got his at the base of some old tree. Must've thought one of the branches was a hand making a grab at him. Fool went and broke his own neck, stumbling around in the dark."

"Saves a few good taxpayer dollars on a trial, eh?"

She watched mutely as they loaded up the body and roared down the gravel drive. As soon as they were gone, she fell to her knees at the base of her favorite tree and began to weep.

Harvey stood awkwardly. He wasn't particularly good with crying. "I'll...be in the barn if you need me."

She didn't notice his departure or Lester's meow of complaint when he had to walk all the way across the yard to demand his breakfast. She barely felt it when Hersehy curled up beside her with an enormous sigh. She could only see the tree that had started her on the path to her dreams. No amount of tender loving care was bringing it back from the brink this time.

Apolla allowed herself to cry until she ran out of tears. Then she wiped her eyes, sniffed and rose. A business owner doesn't have the luxury of drawn-out grieving.

"Alright, boys. Who's ready for breakfast?"

Credits:

Profile coding by Bug
Story by Pureflower
Background from pixabay
Font from Google Fonts

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